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Telling Tales

storytellerCrime writer and fellow blogger D.S. Nelson has offered this terrific ‘photo of a storyteller as a story prompt. Below is the story that came from it. Thank you, D.S., for the inspiration! Now, please go visit D.S. Nelson’s excellent site, and try her Blake Heatherington mysteries. You’ll be glad you did.


Telling Tales

Alison looked through the shop window at the displays of books. She’d come back to her home town for just a few days to do some research for her own next book, and she was looking forward to seeing some old friends who still lived in town. One of them was the manager of this little independent bookshop. She smiled at the display, and went in, pulling off the knitted hat she’d worn as a protection against the early frost. She shook out her tumble of tight, ash-blonde curls, and headed for the counter.

‘May I help you?’ asked the young woman at the cash register.
‘Yes, I’m wondering if I could speak to Tommy Shafner? He’s expecting me, I think.’
At the mention of the owner’s name, the woman looked up with interest. Then her eyes widened and her mouth dropped open a little. After a moment, she recovered herself. ‘You – you’re Alison Browne, right?’
‘That’s me,’ Alison answered with a friendly smile.
‘I’m – I’m a really big fan of your work. I read every book of yours that comes in here. It’s a real pleasure to meet you.’
‘Thank you. That’s very kind.’
After a moment of awkward silence, the young woman said, ‘I’m sorry. I’m – I’m Mikayla. You wanted to speak with Tommy?’
‘Hi, Mikayla. Yes, I’m doing some research for my new book, and I wanted to talk to Tommy about some questions I have. He and I are old friends.’
‘Of course. Let me go get him.’

Mikayla watched as her boss chatted with Alison Browne. If only she could hear what they were saying. She’d try to talk to Alison later if she could. For now, she really ought to get back to work. Well, maybe it wouldn’t hurt to listen, just for a minute. After edging as close as she could, she was able to pick up a little of their conversation. When she heard what they were talking about, her throat closed and she had to swallow hard.

Twenty minutes later, Alison passed by the register on her way out. She noticed Mikayla looking at her closely. As she got nearer, she saw that Mikayla didn’t look well at all.
‘You all right?’ she asked. ‘You look awfully pale.’
‘I’m OK,’ Mikayla mumbled. ‘Just a little tired is all.’ Then she looked thoughtfully at Alison. ‘You’ll be here for a few days, right?’
‘That’s right.’
‘Maybe we could talk, you and I? I could really use your advice. I’m working on my own writing, and I’d love some tips.’
‘No problem. How about if I stop in again tomorrow? About the same time?’
‘That’d be fabulous. And thanks.’

The next afternoon, Alison found herself back at the bookshop. It always excited her when writers asked her for advice. In a way, though, it was awkward. She didn’t feel like an expert. She hadn’t even taken a degree in literature or creative writing. It was just a fluke that she’d been published in the first place. She didn’t see that she had that much to offer, but she’d do her best.

Once inside the store, she saw Mikayla wave to her from one of the aisles.
‘You came!’ Mikayla said when Alison got close enough.
‘Of course I did. I’m no super expert, but I’d be happy to help.’
‘Great! I brought my notebook and pen, but I left them in the back room. Do you mind if we talk there?’
‘No, not at all.’
‘Let me just lock up, so we won’t be disturbed.’
‘All right, if you think you should.’

Five minutes later they were seated at the small table in the back room. Mikayla started the conversation. ‘So, what’s your new book going to be about?’
‘Well, it’s a fictional account of a murder that happened not far from here.’
‘Really? Which murder? Not that there are many.’
‘Do you remember Jacqui Dale’s death? Her body was found in the lake?’
‘Sure do. You’re raking that up again? I thought they put her boyfriend away for that.’
‘See, that’s the thing,’ Alison said. ‘I’m not sure he did it. So I’m trying to find another explanation. Something else that explains the facts.’ Then Alison noticed the look on Mikayla’s face. ‘Wait. You know something about that murder?’
‘You could say so. I knew her.’
‘Would you be willing to talk to me about it?’
Mikayla bit her lip. ‘You don’t want to go bringing that whole thing up again, do you?’ It’d be much better to leave it alone. Just completely leave it.’
‘But what if the wrong person’s in jail for murder?’
‘Just leave it! Please!’ Makayla’s voice had gotten high-pitched and tense.
Alison felt her stomach turn. She slowly got up from the chair. ‘You do know something about this, don’t you?’

Mikayla stood up, too. Alison started to move towards the door, but Mikayla blocked her exit. She pulled a knife from where she’d hidden it, between two cartons of books. ‘I tried to tell you! I tried to get you to drop the whole thing, but you didn’t listen.’
‘Mikayla, don’t! I –’ Alison never got to finish her sentence. And the world never heard the story of how Mikayla had been furious with Jacqui for stealing her boyfriend. Or how she’d taken Jacqui out to the lake for ‘a private talk.’ A talk that had ended when Jacqui drowned. As far as Mikayla was concerned, that was a tale that didn’t need to be told. And if that moron was in jail, good for him!

The next morning, Tommy came into the store. ‘You look like you haven’t slept in days!’ he said when he saw Mikayla.
‘Yeah, kind of a late night last night,’ she said.
‘Oh, by the way, I’m having lunch with Alison Browne today. She’s stopping by around one, just so you know.’
‘Oh, she called. Told me to tell you she won’t be able to make it,’ Mikayla said.


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Please Don’t Leave Me*

returning-to-authorsAbout a week ago, I did a post on what happens when an author disappoints readers. That can happen for any number of reasons. For one thing, authors aren’t perfect. For another, there’s the matter of personal taste. An author may write a book that just isn’t to a reader’s taste, and that may disappoint. There are other things, too, that can leave a reader unhappy about a book.

At the time of that post, I asked you to let me know what you do when that happens. Do you come back to the author? Do you return if you’re a fan of that author’s work? If the disappointment wasn’t too serious? Or do you choose not to return to authors who’ve disappointed you?

Here’s what you had to say, and many thanks for responding.




As you can see, you’re a forgiving group of readers. Of the 22 of you who responded, 20 (91%) are willing to return to an author who’s disappointed you. Eight (36%) of you are usually open to returning in just about any case. Twelve (55%) will do so if you’re a fan of the author, and/or if the disappointment isn’t too upsetting. Two (9%) don’t return to authors who’ve disappointed you.

Why this willingness to return when an author’s let you down? After all, there’s only so much time available for reading. And there are many, many more good books available than anyone can read in a lifetime. Based on the comments you offered, and on what I’ve heard elsewhere, here are my thoughts (with which, of course, feel free to disagree)

One reason may be that you’ve seen that a given author is capable of writing excellent books. This gives you at least some confidence that a disappointing book is just one book, not a pattern. So you’re willing to return, because you’re fairly certain the payoff will be worth it. Of course, your patience probably has its limits (that’s a topic for another blog post, I think). But in general, you believe in authors whose work you really admire.

Of course, that explanation only accounts for those cases where you’re let down by an author whose work you love. What else might be going on? A few of you mentioned an extra willingness to try an author again if the disappointment came from a debut novel. Many authors need a novel or two to find their voices. Even Agatha Christie’s first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, was rejected numerous times before she finally found a publisher. And lots of Christie experts think her best novels came later. So you might be more willing to give a debut author another chance, with the hope that the second novel will be better.

There are personal factors involved, too. As one of you mentioned, you might have read that disappointing book at a time that just wasn’t right for it. Or when you were in the wrong mood for it. There’s the ‘personal taste’ factor, too. A book might tackle a subject that doesn’t interest you. And yet, you liked the writing style, characters, or something else about it. So, when the author has a new release (on a different topic), you’re willing to try it.

A few of you choose not to return to authors who’ve disappointed you, and that’s understandable. After all, no-one has the time to read everything. And we’ve all experienced the frustration of spending our time on a book that lets us down. Why set yourself up for that? In the main, though, you’re willing to try an author again, especially if it’s an author whose work you love, and/or the disappointment wasn’t too severe.

In looking at this and reflecting on the question, I wonder whether there’s a difference between writers and people in other professions when it comes to trying an author more than once. Are writers more willing to forgive (because writers understand as few people can how difficult it is to write a book)? Or, are they harsher critics (because they see ways in which the book could have been improved that non-writers may not)? What do you folks think about that? If you’re a writer, does that fact make you more forgiving?  Less forgiving? Or doesn’t your writing impact your willingness to give an author another chance?

Thanks again for your help with this question!


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Norman Whitfield and Edward Holland, Jr.’s Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.


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Science Lab ;-)

science-in-crime-fiction-quizEveryone’s back in school for the autumn or spring term. It’s time to tackle those chemistry labs and biology experiments! All of this has put me in mind of…


…a quiz! Oh, stop it! Did I force you to come to this blog today? I don’t think so!😉

Detectives couldn’t solve cases without good science. And as a dedicated crime fiction fan, you know all of your crime-fictional scientists, don’t you? Or do you? Take this handy quiz and find out. Match each question to the correct answer and see how well you do.

Ready? Go into the lab to begin…if you dare!😉




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Do You Know Me?*

meet-the-writerI’m excited and honoured that Melanie at Grab the Lapels has invited me to be a part of her Meet the Writer feature! Please stop by and visit me there. I’ll be talking about my writing, how it all started, and where it’s going from here.

While you’re there, do have a look at Grab the Lapels. It’s a fabulous review blog, written by a creative writing expert. A treasure trove of writing and review posts awaits you.



*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a John Mayer song.


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Launch Party Planning ;-)

lanuch-partyIf you’re kind enough to read this blog regularly, then you’ll know that my next Joel Williams novel, Past Tense, is coming out on 1 November. If you haven’t launched a book before, then you might not know just how much is really involved in a successful launch event. Want to know? If you’ll ask your disbelief to go get a wine and some tapas, I’ll tell you all about it. 😉


Launch Party Planning


Margot is sitting in a white leather easy chair in her private room at Crime Fiction News Break headquarters. A manicurist is working on Margot’s outstretched right hand. Margot glances down at the work.

Margot: No, not crimson! It has to be coral! Coral! My nails absolutely must complement my hair and skin tones! Don’t you know anything?

The manicurist mumbles an apology and starts to re-do the work. Margot shakes her head in exasperation, and then turns towards the door as it opens. A young woman comes about halfway through the door.

Margot: Come in, Lily. Do you have the launch invitations back from the print shop?

Lily: Yes, Ma’am. I brought one in to show you. She holds out one of the invitations, and Margot takes it with her free hand.

Margot: What?!? This isn’t going to work at all! What were they thinking? Look (She holds up the invitation). There’s just a tiny picture of me on it. The whole thing is taken up with the book cover. Can you believe it? Thank God there’s still time to have them re-done.

Lily (hesitantly): But – well – it’s a book launch. Wouldn’t you want the book to be the main focus?

Margot: Of course not! People are coming to see me.

Lily: Well, yes, they are. But –

Margot: Look, Lily. You’ll learn this soon enough. People don’t read. They don’t care about books. What they want is showbiz. Style.

Lily (Opens her mouth slightly as if to say something, then thinks better of it.): Well, Crystal is here from the event planners. Maybe you can talk about it with her.

Margot nods and waves Lily away. The manicurist silently moves from Margot’s right to her left side. A moment later, the door opens again. A middle-aged woman carrying a tote bag enters.

Margot: Crystal! Thanks for coming in. I can’t wait to see what you’ve put together.

Crystal: I think you’ll like it. Now, I reserved the date at that winery you liked.

Margot: It is a beautiful little place isn’t it? But I don’t know if it’ll work.

Crystal: Why not? You loved it when we were there.

Margot: Well, it’s only on one floor. How am I supposed to make my entrance at this party if there’s no staircase?

Crystal (Raises an eyebrow, then reaches into her tote). We can talk about that later. For right now, I want to show you a sample flyer and bookmark. She pulls a bookmark out of the tote and hands it to Margot.

Margot: What’s this for?

Crystal: It’s a giveaway.

Margot: No, I mean what do you do with it?

Crystal: Well, you – never mind. Just trust me, your guests will like it.

Margot (Doubtfully): If you say so. What else do you have?

Crystal (Reaches into the tote again and pulls out a flyer. She hands that to Margot, who puts the bookmark on her lap and takes the flyer): Take a look at this great flyer I put together.

Margot (After turning the flyer over and then back again): This is all wrong!

Crystal (Trying to smother an exasperated sigh): What’s the problem?

Margot: Well, the book cover and the blurb take up one entire side. And there’s stuff about the event and the winery on the other. There’s only one small picture of me, and that’s just in one corner.

Crystal: But that’s the whole point of the event, Margot. The book. You want to let people know about the book, so they’ll come meet you and hopefully buy a copy.

Margot: Who cares about the book? Nobody reads books, and people who do read only do it so they’ll look smart. They won’t care what it’s actually about. Besides, you said they’ll also want to meet me.

Crystal: Well, yes, but mostly, they’ll be interested in the book. So you want to make that the focus. That’s why we’re putting a microphone in, so you can do a couple of readings.

Margot: Readings? You mean read from the book?

Crystal: Of course. We talked about this. Didn’t you pick out some passages you want to read?

Margot: Nah, too much like work. Besides, that would mean I’d have to actually read the thing.

Crystal: But you wrote it, didn’t you?

Margot: Well, yeah, but I didn’t pay any attention to it when I was writing it.  Besides, I thought that microphone was for me to tell people about myself.

Crystal: Um…no, it’s really not.

Margot (Beginning to look bored and fidget a bit). This doesn’t sound like nearly as much fun as I thought it was going to be. There is going to be food, right?

Crystal: Of course. I’ve got some ideas about that. I’m thinking a launch cake, some small appetizers, and of course, it’s a winery, so that’s covered. We’ll have coffee and tea, too.

Margot: Wait, what? No caviar? No white truffles? No lobster? I thought this was going to be catered.

Crystal (With a determined look on her face): You’re talking about things that are served at state dinners and other events like that. This is a book launch party.

Margot: You know, you’re right. Why don’t we toss the whole book concept completely and just make it a party? I don’t even remember anything about the stupid book, anyway. Instead of worrying about books, let’s have a real party – the exclusive event of the year. She gets a dreamy look on her face as she imagines the event.

Crystal shakes her head slightly and catches the manicurist looking at her sympathetically. She returns the glance and gathers her materials. She says a quick ‘good bye’ to Margot. As she leaves, she just catches Margot murmuring, ‘But what am I going to do about my hair?’


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